What do you imagine when you read the phrase ‘relaxing backyard space for women’? Well, if you’ve been following the whole ‘She Shed’ trend, you’d probably picture a garden sanctuary or an elegant mini cottage – perfect for a restful Sunday morning with just you and your collection of Jodi Picoult novels.
That’s all well and good, but for a growing number of women, their idea of She Sheds is more akin to the ‘blokey’ version: a practical space where they can apply their creative skills, fixing and making stuff.
One of Australia’s leaders in the more hands-on version of the She Shed is Meg Solly, founder and CEO of She Skills, a shared makerspace and social movement that’s equal parts power-tool class and community club.
Meg was kind enough to share with us a bit about her and her organisation’s background, along with some tips for those looking to create their own makerspace at home.
Releasing Your Inner Handywoman
According to Meg, a lot of the women who come to She Skills have long harboured an interest in DIY and using tools – it’s just that they’ve never felt confident enough to actually get stuck in.
“Workshops like She Skills attempt to remove this worry by focusing on learning through trial and error, without judgement,” she explains.
Fortunately for Meg (and for the hundreds of women she’s helped), she never suffered from this lack of confidence.
“I grew up on a farm where kids were just part of the workforce, so I was never afraid of manual work,” she says.
But despite marrying a cabinet maker and working on countless projects around the house, Meg only clued onto her real passion while working admin in the construction and mining industry.
“I was more interested in what the tradies were up to, rather than doing office work,” Meg admits.
Throw in some passion, a pool of enthusiastic learners and an incredibly successful crowd-funding campaign, and that’s how She Skills came to be.
The Importance of ‘She’ in ‘She Sheds’
She Skills is all about giving women a safe, supportive place where they can learn tradie-like skills. Or as Meg puts it: “We take the idea of ‘wrong’ out of the equation.”
It’s about taking away the at-times-gendered barriers to vocational classes and courses, and the daunting feeling of walking into a room full of blokes.
“I know how difficult walking into a room of blokes can be,” says Meg.
When her apartment’s courtyard was no longer adequate (and the neighbours were getting annoyed), Meg and her husband, Clint, went in search of a workspace in the city.
“The lack of places that welcomed women was disappointing, but eventually we found a workshop that was a great place to work, but there were no classes targeted to women,” says Meg.
“So we decided to start our own.”
Creating Your Own She Shed at Home
If the idea of creating your own fixing and making zone at home appeals to you, you know what you gotta do.
Step 1 is to clear the clutter out of your shed or garage so you actually have a sensible space where you can get down to business.
You don’t need snazzy tools or custom benches – once you have a hazard-free zone, all that’s required is a solid surface and some basic power tools.
For Meg, this meant using a handcrafted timber dining table as her workbench for several years.
“We protected it by using coversheets and a couple of MDF boards,” she explains.
Meg’s picks for the first 5 tools you’ll need are, in no particular order:
- Cordless drill
- Sander (particularly if upcycling furniture)
- Saw (tenon or jack).
But even if you start with a blank slate, a shed can quickly become a source of frustration (and a scrapyard of half-finished projects) if left unorganised. This is where having decent storage solutions is crucial – without them, clutter builds up fast and turns your DIY sanctuary into a stressful mess.
“Use a lot of good-quality storage tubs that are stackable,” Meg suggests.
“We label ours so we don’t have to rifle through 8 boxes to find what we’re looking for.”
Finding Inspiration and Guidance
Even experienced handywomen aren’t above turning to the internet for help and ideas.
“We use Google and YouTube constantly,” says Meg, although she also warns that online guides can sometimes teach bad techniques to beginners.
“There’s a lot of dodgy stuff out there,” she says.
“Look for sources that are endorsed by power tool and hardware companies because they have an interest in ensuring their tools are demonstrated with best practice.”
Meg also recommends checking that people in video tutorials are wearing appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment), such as safety glasses and earmuffs.
Meg’s favourite sources of inspo and advice:
Finally, Meg suggests searching your city for community makerspaces. Having your own She Shed at home is a great way to spend quality ‘you time’. But working on a fun project in a social group is rewarding in a whole other way.
You can find the She Skills shed at 23/133 Hyde Road, Yeronga, in Brisbane’s inner southwest.